By Jean-Pierre Simon, director of the Villa Arson (translation by Paula Maouyo).
Since September 2007, Villa Arson has led—thanks to the constant support of the General Council of Alpes-Maritimes—a research program on the history of performance on the French Riviera from 1951 to the present day. Initially this project was born from a desire to conduct a study on artistic creation in this region not only across styles and generations, but also beyond the walls of our own establishment. It soon became apparent that performance forms a link that crosses time with a constant energy, marrying or intersecting with most of the currents of action art of the last sixty years, from the return of avant-garde principles in the 1950s, to the great aesthetic upheavals of the 1960s, to the activism of the 1970s, to the reaction against the return to order in the 1980s, to the institutionalization of art in the 1990s, and lastly, to the renewal of the spirit of action in the mid-2000s. What is exciting about this adventure is that, beyond the founding fathers, Yves Klein, Arman and Ben, the French Riviera has always been able to generate and welcome artists who are inventors of ever-changing movements and attitudes. This project does not intend to construct this territory as a capital nor as some sort of school, but rather to reveal a counterhistory of the French Riviera, built facing the pomp and splendor of the Riviera, carried by many generations of artists all of whom aimed to destabilize social, cultural, or political codes and conventions. In this sense, this research draws on the history of art since the end of World War II, meanwhile developing a bona fide sociological and anthropological study of an entire region.
June 30, 2012 is the date of online posting of all the information collected by this research: art-performance. fr. For this, it was necessary to create a database with classifications specifically adapted to the content, and then to allow them to evolve over time as indicated by the results of our investigations. The interface and graphic design of this database-derived site were entrusted to the group g.u.i (www.g-u-i.net) experienced in the adaptation of so-called variable media (e.g. sound, dance, performance) for the web In keeping with the character of performance, the graphic interface, at the same time moving and spontaneous, functions as a platform of collaboration and sharing, so as to allow the protagonists of this history to enrich its content in the future. The first in France, and certainly one of the first of its kind in the world, this database is therefore designed to be ongoing in its evolution, also able to serve projects led by researchers or organizations interested in the development of performance outside our borders, regardless of the art periods or movements.
June 30, 2012 is also the date of the opening of the exposition To Deliberate Life!, the staging of which was conceived with students from Pavillo Bosio, the Graduate School of the Fine Arts of Monaco, under the coordination of faculty members Mathilde Roman and Renaud Layrac. Aware that organizing an exposition devoted to performance is, in principle, a contradiction, given the impossibility of reconstructing the living reality of an action by any object or document, yet motivated by the desire to update this vast collection of information in both an artistic and political manner, we put the focus on the research led by the establishment for the past five years. Thus, the layout of the art center is designed as the re-enactment of an investigation with hundreds of documents assembled in sixteen rooms. So as to avoid chronological or nominative classifications, the different rooms reflect different topologies of action (seaside, shopping center, street, village, bar, artist’s studio, alternative space, business space, gallery...), proving that artists have often conquered their own territories by going beyond traditional spaces of representation. All these documents (reprints of photographs, posters, flyers, drawings or correspondence related to the performances) are taped to the wall with an adhesive acting as a label indicating the artist’s name, the title of the work, and the place and date of the activity. To complement the posted signs, each visitor will receive this journal - produced by newpollution (Cyril Terrier) and coedited with the magazine La Strada -so that he or she may conduct his or her own investigation by making the link between the documents presented in the exposition and the descriptions of the performances provided in this publication. Realizing that often only stories and legends remain once a performance has finished, we have made recordings over the past few months with over forty artists to collect their stories on their creations. All of these accounts are available in the database and replayed in the exposition by means of a number of listening devices. No specific criteria were set for these recordings. The results vary widely. Some stick closely to the story. Others go beyond it. But the personalities of the artists are perfectly embodied here and each testifies to an art resolutely oriented towards life. For if performance is the art of setting aside artistic and social codes and conventions, it is above all an ode to life and a lifestyle choice – To Deliberate Life!
Finally, we have deliberately decided against organizing performances during the exposition. Being occupied with research up to the last minute, we had neither the means nor the time. Additionally, we felt that it would have been contrary to the spirit of performance’s desire to free itself from the institution, its boundaries and constraints, for us to offer regular programming on our premises. Still, many organizations on the French Riviera are taking advantage of the opportunity to produce performances throughout summer 2012: Bonson’s Peu Festival and Barjol’s Zip festival, as well as Le Dojo, Les Musées Nationaux, La Villa Caméline, La Station, KeskonFabrik, the Windsor Hotel, the Loft Galleries, Espace à Vendre et Espace à Débattre, with, notably, the project Voix Publiques and the invitation to a dozen artists to perform at the speakers’ corner by creating public speech events in peripheral public spaces (gardens, parking lots, terraces, sidewalks, plazas...). The artists will be free to appear as preachers, poets, scholars, storytellers, theorists, pamphleteers, philosophers, and even mimes – thus proving that the spirit of creation is still alive and well in this region.